What Trump Gets Right About Jeff Flake – Politico
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake abandoned his 2018 reelection campaign while insisting he would still fight to prevent President Donald Trump from warping the Republican Party’s traditional conservatism beyond recognition. He’s even teasing a possible presidential run in 2020 by refusing to rule it out whenever asked.
But if you’re a never-Trump Republican, don’t get too excited by the prospect of Flake saving the GOP or blazing a new third-party trail for his brand of kinder, gentler conservatism. The harsh reality is there is no political home for Flakeism — or, while we’re at it, Kasichism or Sasseism. There is no appetite for it in the GOP. There’s no sizeable market for a new political party in the Flake mold.
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How do we know? On the same day that Flake announced he would leave the Senate, the Pew Research Center released a new political “typology” report, which broke down the electorate into nine segments that go beyond the usual left-right classifications. In the data, you can see in stark relief how Flake is politically marooned.
According to Pew, the Republican coalition is largely made up for four typologies: Core Conservatives, Country First Conservatives, Market Skeptic Republicans and New Era Enterprisers.
Flake is best categorized as a New Era Enterpriser, defined by Pew as “fundamentally optimistic about the state of the nation and its future … strongly pro-business and generally think[ing] that immigrants strengthen, rather than burden, the country.” More than any other faction of Republicans, New Era Enterprisers shun economic populism; a strong majority believes “U.S. involvement in the global economy is a good thing” and a slight majority says, “banks and other financial institutions have a positive effect on the country.”
New Era Enterprisers also show some flickering signs of social liberalism. For example, they display the most interest in tackling racism, compared with the other Republican segments, with 43 percent contending that more changes are needed to achieve “equal rights” for African-Americans. Furthermore, 54 percent support same-sex marriage. (Flake is not on record in support of same-sex marriage. But he has inched away from rigid social conservatism, voting for an LGBT workplace rights bill in 2013.)
However, New Era Enterprisers are a small piece of Republican coalition, composing about one-sixth of “politically engaged” Republicans.
Country First Conservatives and Market Skeptic Republicans are factions similar to New Era Enterprisers in size, but they hew more closely to Trump’s rhetoric of economic nationalism and record of social conservatism. They are the segments most likely to believe that immigrants “burden the U.S.,” and Country Firsters are the least likely to support global economic involvement and to accept homosexuality. (Pew did not explore transgender issues.) Market Skeptics are the most critical of Wall Street institutions and the general lack of fairness in the economy, although most share the fiscally conservative view that “government can’t afford to do much more to help the needy.”
The biggest segment of the politically engaged GOP, 43 percent, is made up of Core Conservatives. If Flake retains hope that traditional conservatism can still survive in the Republican Party, the hope lies with them.
Most Core Conservatives embrace American involvement in the global economy (though specific questions about trade policy were not asked). Less than half consider immigrants a “burden,” while a not insignificant 39 percent say immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents.” They are similarly divided on same-sex marriage—43 percent favor and 49 oppose—so not all display a harsh social conservatism. So far, you might be thinking, this sounds like Jeff Flake.
Yet these are bedrock Trump supporters. More than any other faction, Core Conservatives approve of Trump’s presidency (93 percent) and agree with Trump on the issues most or all of the time (86 percent). Only 8 percent “don’t like the way Donald Trump conducts himself as president” (though a slight majority have “mixed feelings”). In contrast, a small plurality of New Era Enterprisers dislike Trump’s conduct, 39 percent.
Where do these Core Conservatives fundamentally break with Flake? Diversity. They may not be as vehemently anti-immigrant as Trump and some of the other typologies. But there’s little evidence Core Conservatives are interested in talk of equal rights and multiculturalism.
They are the group least likely to say racism is a “big problem” and most likely to say America already “has made needed changes” to give blacks equal rights. Core Conservatives are the only segment of Pew’s typology in which a majority believes affirmative action for college admissions is a “bad thing.”
Core Conservatives are also the most Islamophobic of the typologies, with 79 percent expressing the view that “the Islamic religion is more likely than others to encourage violence among its believers.” (New Era Enterprisers are the least Islamophobic among Republicans, though a majority still associate Islam with violence.) And they are by far the least concerned about sexism, with 90 percent concluding “obstacles that made it harder for women to get ahead are largely gone.”
Compare those Core Conservative views to Flake’s call for a diverse GOP. In his book, Conscience of a Conservative, he writes: “[A]s an increasingly old and increasingly white party, we are skidding with each passing election toward irrelevance in terms of appealing to a broad electorate. We hold out our hand, expecting our share of nonwhite votes, and yet we give these Americans too few reasons to come our way. Instead, we demonize them, marginalize them, blame them for our country’s problems.” This was the argument Jeb Bush made in the 2016 Republican primary, and it was once the conventional wisdom among GOP elites. Trump stomped all over it.
Flake is acutely aware that there is no room for him in the today’s GOP, admitting on the Senate floor, “It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican Party.” Yet he retains a gauzy hope that “this spell will eventually break.”
But Core Conservatives, who are the core of the Republican Party, are not under a spell. Their bond to Trump is not hypnotic. They hold deeply rooted views that are fundamentally opposed to Flake’s vision of a multicultural conservatism. Moreover, the other small Republican factions, outside of Flake’s own, are more strongly opposed to internationalism and immigration.
Even among New Era Enterprisers, Flake is not completely in sync. While they are the Republicans least fond of Trump, 63 percent of them still approve of his presidency. Flake is in the minority of his own minority typology.
So if the Republican Party is a lost cause to Flake’s immigrant-friendly free-traders, is there an opening for Flake or a similar figure to mount a third party presidential bid? No, because the New Era Enterprise faction is too small on its own, and has too little in common with the less partisan factions of the Democratic Party.
Like Flake, most New Era Enterprisers (53 percent) oppose legal abortion in most circumstances. But only the tiniest of the four Democratic factions, the 7 percent of politically engaged Democrats whom Pew dubs “Devout and Diverse,” lean toward a pro-life view. Flake has long been a voice of limited government and a crusader against “earmarks” for public spending projects, while most Democrats in the Pew survey are squarely for “bigger government.”
There is one Democratic faction—the one-fifth of largely moderate and financially strapped Democrats Pew considers “Disaffected”—whose adherents tend to view government as “almost always wasteful and inefficient.” But these same folks are fairly skeptical of global involvement; 63 percent say America should “pay less attention overseas” and they are more likely than other Democrats to believe economic globalization will cost Americans wages and jobs. They won’t quickly sign on to Flake’s free trade platform.
Therein lies the rub of building a third party that transcends the current ideological spectrum. There are factions in both parties that hold positions not fully in line with party orthodoxy. But those wayward factions are relatively small and don’t easily agree among themselves.
Flake, or a like-minded politician such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, may still decide to mount a quixotic third-party bid in defiance of the data, in hopes of reshaping the political landscape in the short run or laying groundwork for the long run. Such a prospect should terrify Republicans, who barely won the presidency in 2016 and can’t afford to lose any wisp of Trump’s tenuous coalition.
Unless the creation of a brand new, traditionally conservative party by renegade Republicans gives some disgruntled Democrats ideas of their own …
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